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Recent News & Updates
Bangkok – There is an investigation going on at the moment in Thailand about possible cases of Zika-linked microcephaly. According to the public health minister Piyasakon Sakolsatayadorn, the government is investigating the suspected cases in three babies and a 36-week-old unborn baby. If proven to be right, these could be the first cases of microcephaly caused by Zika in this part of the continent.
Zika virus has been causing problems in South-east Asia, with news about cases caused by the mosquito-borne virus coming from a number of countries. When it comes to Thailand, with 349 confirmed Zika cases, this country is one of the most-affected in the whole of Asia.
The person in charge of dealing with Zika-virus in Thailand, Mr. Amnuay Gajeena, the general director of Disease Control Department, says that it is too early to connect the four microcephaly cases with Zika. Similar statement came from Thai public health minister, who added that no premature conclusions should be made as Zika is a sensitive subject. Still, researches done in the USA have shown that the virus can cause microcephaly. Last year, over 1,600 cases of microcephaly were confirmed to be caused by Zika virus in Brazil.
Speaking of the issue, microcephaly is a birth defect which manifests as a small head size. The problem can lead to huge problems in baby’s development. Piyasakon Sakolsatayadorn confirmed that three babies were diagnosed with this condition, as well as one unborn baby, but it is still unsure what the cause of it was.
The World Health Organization gave a statement about these cases, saying that if it was to be confirmed, these would be the first cases of Zika-linked microcephaly in South-east Asia.
Certain health experts have argued that Thailand has not been taking the Zika threat seriously enough. Because of its thriving tourist industry, this country hasn’t been testing foreigners for this virus. Still, Thai officials dismiss these claims, saying that their response has been more than adequate. According to them, the real threat lies in the mosquito-born Zika.
When it comes to microcephaly, there are no tests that can determine this condition until the third semester of pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, apart from causing microcephaly, the virus is also responsible for causing a number of other syndromes, like Guillain-Barre syndrome, for example. This is a neurological issue that manifests by causing short-term paralysis in grownups.
The biggest problem with Zika virus is that it’s not easy to detect. In fact, over 80% of Zika-infected people have failed to notice the symptoms. This means that many pregnant women don’t know they have the virus in them. Another bad news is that even when the virus is discovered, there is no successful way of treating it yet, but scientists all over the world are working on the vaccine.
The World Health Organization recognizes two lineages of lineages of Zika virus – the African and the Asian. In fact, the virus was first discovered in Africa, in 1947. When it comes to South-east Asia, it is reported that Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines are the countries with new cases of Zika. In Singapore alone, there are 393 new cases of Zika virus since this August.
Zika virus has not been as much a nightmare for anyone as it has been for pregnant women and couples trying to conceive. Its recent breakout in the Americas has terrorized them into thinking rationally about their decisions in life, including whether they should delay their wants for a child and should the pregnant head out of their homes for simple stuff such as getting groceries.
Their fears are not for nothing since Zika virus poses an immense threat to the next generation of infants. Any threat to the fetus of a pregnant woman can be perilous for the potential mothers as well, so the virus can prove to be a catastrophe for both of them.
Zika virus is a virus from the Flaviviridae family of viruses and belongs to the genus Flavivirus. This is the same family and genus that contains other famous viruses like dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile viruses. It is an arbovirus that is primarily transmitted through mosquito bites of the Aedes genus, mainly the bites of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus.
The virus was first discovered in 1947 from the Zika forest in Uganda, hence the name ‘Zika.’ However, the virus was not thought to cause much harm or proved to be fatal in any case, so hardly any research was done on the virus at that time.
It caught the world’s eye during the recent outbreak of the virus in Americas, beginning from Brazil. Within a year, Brazil had thousands of babies born with severe congenital disabilities and deformities that could be fatal for some infants. From there on, the virus has spread across the Americas to the neighboring countries of Brazil, Central America, North America and the Caribbean. After such drastic effects of the virus, older breakouts in other places were looked into such as Micronesia in 2007 and small islands of Oceania during 2013-2014.
Why Is It Dangerous?
Often, the Zika virus does not harm the infected people or it might induce some mild illness, which would only last a few days or a week, though in some rare cases, it can lead to the Guillain-Barre syndrome which can be fatal. However, it can be devastating for pregnant women and their fetuses.
The Zika virus can lead to pregnancy losses or an abnormally small head due to an underdeveloped brain, a condition known as microcephaly. Microcephaly can be associated with developmental problems, mental retardation, and seizures and can be fatal for the infants in some cases.
Since the pandemic began in the Americas, there has been a surge in the cases of miscarriages and children born with microcephaly in most of these countries. Brazil, from where the epidemic broke, remains to be the most affected country in the Americas. From mid-2015 to September 2016, some 1950 confirmed cases of Zika-related microcephaly have been reported. Many of the infants with microcephaly do not get to live long and die within a few hours or days from their birth. A high proportion of pregnancies with mothers carrying Zika virus have resulted in miscarriages. In the US, out of the nine reported cases of pregnant women with Zika virus, only three have led to live births.
The symptoms of Zika virus are not generally noticed as many people do not even develop any symptoms at all and those who do mostly go through a mild illness for a few days or a week. This illness could be called Zika fever i.e. a mild fever that can last for three days to a week. Other symptoms of the virus include muscle and joint pain, rashes, and conjunctivitis. These symptoms, being too general, makes the diagnosis of Zika virus challenging since it is generally mistaken as the seasonal flu or some normal disease, for which people would not prefer to go and see a doctor.
Currently, there are no vaccines to be immune from the Zika virus or any medicine to treat the virus when acquired. The research on this is under process and until then, specialists recommend a few tips for pregnant women or couples to prevent from acquiring the Zika virus.
Zika was once an obscure virus that not many knew about, and not much research was done on it. However, it erupted onto the world stage in late-2015 and panicked the world with its spread in South America, with the most abundant presence of the virus in the continent being in Brazil.
The Zika virus belongs to the virus family Flaviviridae and the Flavivirus genus. Thus, it is related to the dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile viruses since they all share the same family and genus. It is most closely related to the Spondweni virus and is one of the two known viruses in the Spondweni virus clade.
It is an arbovirus – viruses that use mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas as their vectors – with its vector being the mosquitoes of Aedes genus such as Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus.
Zika Virus Throughout Time
The Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 in the Zika Forest of Uganda. It was first found isolated from a rhesus macaque monkey by scientists surveying for yellow fever. The first evidence of human infection was found in 1952 in Uganda and Nigeria. A study in India during the same year suggested that the virus had been long spread in human populations. The first isolation of the virus from a human was published in 1954 from the blood of a 10-year-old Nigerian girl.
From 1951 to 1983, the virus spread across other countries in equatorial Africa, which includes Egypt, Gabon, and Sierra Leone, and Southern parts of Asia that comprise of India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Pakistan.
The first outbreak outside Africa and Asia was found on the Island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia in 2007. The symptoms noticed were rash, conjunctivitis, and arthralgia. It was initially thought to be dengue or chikungunya. The second outbreak occurred during 2013-2014 in Oceania on the islands of French Polynesia, Easter Island, the Cook Islands and New Caledonia.
The most recent and prevalent outbreak began in April 2015 in Brazil and since then, has spread to other countries in South America, Central America, North America and the Caribbean. It is estimated that 1.5 million people have been infected by Zika in Brazil.
Transmission of the Virus
The reasons for the recent pandemic in the Americas are unknown, but it is said that the virus arrived in Brazil during the grand FIFA World Cup 2014 event either through an infected traveler or through a mosquito from elsewhere carrying the Zika virus.
Being an arbovirus, its main source of transmission is through mosquito bites, but there are other modes of transmission as well. Here are all the recognized ways of Zika virus transmission.
Zika virus is primarily transmitted through the bite of an infected female Aedes mosquito, Aedes aegypti being the most prominent. These are mostly active during daytime but can peak in the early morning or evenings as well. They are the same kind of mosquitoes that spread dengue and yellow fever viruses. The females need to feed on blood in order to lay eggs.
These notorious species of mosquitoes are known to prefer biting humans over other creatures and, therefore, live indoors and outdoors near people. They lay their eggs on still water like in buckets, bowls and even flower pots or vases.
The mosquitoes can acquire the virus from biting an infected person and the virus can then be transmitted to another person bitten by the same mosquito.
Zika can also be transmitted through sexual interaction and fluids from an infected person to their sexual partner. The case also stands for those who have acquired the virus but do not develop any symptoms.
CDC states that Zika can be transmitted from an infected person before their symptoms, while they have symptoms, or after their symptoms are over. Studies are being carried out over the life of the virus in seminal and vaginal fluids, but there are no certain results. However, it is known that the virus can survive longer in the semen than any other body fluid.
An infected mother can pass the virus to her fetus through the amniotic fluid.
There have been two cases of virus transmission through blood transfusion since the pandemic began and both cases are from Brazil.
Symptoms and Risks
Many people with the virus might not have any symptoms or might develop some mild symptoms such as a mild fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, muscle pain and headache. These symptoms can last from a few days to a week.
However, it can be risky for some people as well. It is a scientific consensus that the Zika virus during pregnancy can cause microcephaly and other fetal defects in the newborn.
Moreover, the rare disease Guillain-Barre syndrome has increased in areas with Zika and scientific consensus suggests that Zika can increase the chances of acquiring the syndrome.
Prevention and WHO Recommendations
Researchers are over the task of developing a Zika vaccine, but there is no such treatment available at the moment. However, the Zika virus can be prevented.
A recent study has linked morning sickness with lower chances of miscarriage. The research suggests that this condition may have a protective effect on the fetus. The result of the research was announced in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
According to the research, between 50 and 80 percent of pregnant women experience the morning sickness, that is, vomiting and nausea during the first three months of pregnancy. The name of the condition is rather misleading as it can affect women at any time of the day, not only in the morning.
The study was done on 797 women of an average age of 29, by the researchers from the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. All the women involved already had one or two pregnancy losses before. The pregnant women tracked their nausea and vomiting by using a diary, while their pregnancy was confirmed by urine tests.
Although this study didn’t offer the definite answer to whether these things are connected, Enrique Schisterman, who was in charge of the research said that it showed that morning sickness was related to 50-75 percent reduction in the risk of miscarriage. The reason why this study was conducted in the first place was that the link between morning sickness and a smaller risk of miscarriages was suggested with previous researches. In fact, those studies led certain experts to believe that nausea and vomiting are what influences a healthy pregnancy.
The logic behind this claim is that nausea and vomiting lead to women eating less, thus lowering the risk that the fetus will be exposed to toxins. On top of that, less food also means lowering the insulin levels. A research has shown that a lower food intake also has an effect on the growth of the placenta.
Still, there isn’t a conclusive fact that these two things are connected, but the results clearly suggest it. However, if a carrying woman doesn’t have the symptoms of morning sickness like vomiting or nausea, it doesn’t necessarily mean problems with her pregnancy. A good way to relieve morning sickness and water retention during pregnancy is to have a prenatal massage performed by a certified therapist, the benefits are proven to be both effective and safe when done from the 12th week of the trimester onwards.
These studies might have given further assurance to the women with morning sickness that their pregnancy is going to go well, but the nausea is not the ultimate sign that everything’s well. British National Childbirth Trust spokesperson Sarah McMullen warns that women should not disregard other symptoms, but also not to take nausea and vomiting lightly.
According to McMullen, morning sickness might be good news, but this issue needs to be treated the right way as it comes with a lot of hazards. First of all, vomiting can lead to dehydration, which can harm the fetus. On top of that, bad appetite can make the baby lack certain essential nutrients that are needed for the proper development.
With all this in mind, it is fair to say that future mothers who have morning sickness have every right to feel optimistic, but also need to pay close attention to their health. If they’re unable to digest any of the foot, they need to contact their doctor.
A 39-year-old woman from Singapore decides on buying donated milk online after failing to breastfeed her baby. Fiona Grier is a successful business owner and a mother of four, who had no problems breastfeeding in the past, but wasn’t able to produce breast milk for her fourth child. Mrs. Grier had no problems breastfeeding three of her kids, but due to some complications she wasn’t able to do the same for her baby Ciara, whom she gave birth a couple of weeks ago.
The reason why she failed to produce milk was the placenta tissue that stayed in her body and wrecked havoc on her hormones. This is not an uncommon issue – when the placenta stays in the body, hormones will not trigger the breast milk production. Although this is not a dangerous problem, the trouble with it is that there’s no cure for it apart from time. But, Mrs. Grier didn’t have time to wait as her baby was hungry. One option was to feed her with formula, but Grier didn’t want to give up on breast milk.
Mrs. Grier decided to look for real breast milk online. To her surprise, she realized that there were plenty of milk sharing platforms on the internet. One that dealt with breast milk sharing in Singapore, the Human Milk 4 Human Babies (HM4HB), was her choice.
Just a couple of days after making a request, Mrs. Grier got the milk from two mothers and was ready to feed her baby Ciara. Milk-sharing is not something that is recommended by the professionals, but the reasons why Grier decided on this are pretty legit. According to her, medications didn’t help her produce more than 1-2 milliliters of milk per day. She didn’t want to use the formula because of the evidences that it can mess up the flora in baby’s intestine and further make her prone to allergies.
The reasons why professionals discourage women from using milk-sharing sites is that they’re not regulated, at least not in Singapore, where Mrs. Grier lives. According to Ms Wong Lai Ying from NUH Women’s Centre, donor milk could be a great option for mothers who can’t breastfeed, but only if the milk is tested and pasteurized. That’s the only way that this can be a safe practice.
Breast milk, same as every bodily fluid, can be a transmitter of diseases like Hepatitis B or even HIV. Although the chances are slim that the breast milk will infect the baby, there are many other reasons why it is dangerous. If not pasteurized, the milk can get contaminated.
However, so far, Fiona Grier had only good experiences. When asked about the dangers this practice brings, Mrs. Grier said she had made her decision based on chat with the mothers that were donating the milk. After talking with them about their health and vaccinations, Grier was able to make her choice.
Fiona Grier is no stranger to sharing breast milk. In fact, she said that she donated her breast milk when she was breastfeeding her 3rd child. At the moment, Grier’s problems with placenta are gone, so she’s able to breastfeed her baby girl on her own.
A recent study has confirmed what’s been speculated for a while – prenatal pollution can have a lasting effect on the behavior of children!
It’s a common knowledge that pollution can have a bad impact on human health. Cigarettes, cars, factories can all make problems with our general health, but a recent study has shown that some problems can even be transferred to the babies in the womb.
A group of researchers led by Amy Margolis from the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health did a study to see whether is there a connection between polluted air that the carrying mothers breathe and their children’s behavior later in life. The results of the research were published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and quickly became viral.
The reason why this study got in the headlines is that it proved that the children whose mothers were exposed to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a primary air pollutant, had certain issues regarding their behavior. Previous studies on this subject have concluded that these children, aged between 3 and 11, showed signs of depression, anxiety, as well as attention disorder.
The reasons why the researches even decided to do this study was to see if they could find the connection between the exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and behavioral problems. In order to measure the emotional self regulation of the children, the researchers used a standard test, which deals with the intensity of emotions, impulsiveness, and aggression.
The testing was done on 462 children, whose mothers were tested on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) during the pregnancy. The results confirmed what the researchers suspected – children whose mothers were exposed to the pollutant had the emotional issues. They were less likely to regulate their emotions than the children who weren’t exposed to the PAH while in the womb.
The problem in behavior of these children manifests in their ability to control emotions. When it comes to the normal development, the children are able to sustain their impulsive reactions such as instant gratification. During the childhood this doesn’t seem as a much of big problem, but the truth is that it can lead to serious issues in the adolescence. Children with emotional issues are prone to risk behavior during their teens, like violence and drug abuse.
According to Frederica Perera from Columbia, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons exposure is the culprit here. She claims that the PAH might be responsible for reducing the amount of white matter in the brain.
Still, the things are not so bad, having in mind that solving the PAH pollution is not that hard. In fact, this can be done pretty easily and some local governments have already started dealing with it. For example, New York City government has already made policies that deal with the issue and it seems they’re already making an effect. This study is still going on and recent results are showing that in some parts of NYC, the level of pollution is dropping. Still, even without the policies, the PAH pollution is avoidable.
According to the researchers, people can help solving this problem by changing their habits. For example, they can start by quitting smoking or, at least, not smoking in their homes. On top of that, removing wood-burning fireplaces and properly ventilating the homes can also help solving this issue.
A couple days ago, a newspaper reported that a man in Portugal spent 43 years in a wheelchair due to a bad medical diagnosis. The man, now in his forties, is learning again how to walk properly.
As the Jornal de Noticias reported, a man called Rufino Borrego was diagnosed with an incurable muscle dystrophy at the age of 13 and since was stuck to a wheelchair. However, in 2010 a neurologist realized that the diagnosis wasn’t right – instead of suffering from muscle dystrophy, Borrego was struck by myasthenia, a totally different disease but with similar symptoms.
The main difference between these two seemingly similar diseases is that myasthenia is not incurable. This disease might be rare, but is fairly easy to cure. In fact, it can be treated with asthma medication.
The neurologist who noticed the mistake in Borrego’s diagnosis changed his therapy soon after realizing what the problem was. Less than a year after Borrego started with the new treatment, the improvements started showing up. Soon enough, Mr. Borrego’s legs become strong enough for him to walk.
Although it still needs time for Rufino Borrego to get a hold of proper walking after over four decades spend in a wheelchair, he is now able to go to his favorite café on foot. Mr. Manuel Melao, the owner of Borrego’s favorite neighborhood café said that he though a miracle has happened when he saw the man walking.
Today, Rufino Borrego is a 61-year-old man, living in Alandroal, a small town in south-east Portugal. With the new therapy, Rufino Borrego is enabled to walk again freely. He only needs to visit his physiotherapist once every six months, which gives him plenty of time to get his life in order.
When asked if he’s considering suing the hospital, Borrego answered that he felt no hard feelings. The mistaken diagnosis did make his life worse, but the Portuguese man feels there is no room for looking back. One of the reasons why he feels like forgiving the hospital for the mistake is that myasthenia is still a very rare disease, while in the 1960s it was almost completely unknown.
Myasthenia gravis or MG as it is commonly referred as, is a disease that is that cause muscle weakness. Depending on the intensity, the disease can be mild, like for example the case causing eye twitching, but it can also cause serious problems like in the case of Rufino Borrego.
These days, the disease is fairly easy to treat, but in the past was a serious issue. In fact, at the beginning of the 20th century, the mortality rate for those affected by MG was about 80%. Today, that number is much lower, somewhere about 3 percent.
MG was first discovered in late 19th century, but it needed almost a whole century for scientists to find the right treatment for it. The reason for this is that the disease is fairly uncommon, so neither was there enough patients, nor the disease was a priority.
The statement given by the World Health Organization on September 27 says that a dramatic action is needed in order to fight pollution. According to them, bad air is to be blamed for over six million deaths each year!
The head of department of public health and environment of the World Health Organization, Dr Maria Neira says that recent reports are alarming. Not only is the air bad in large cities, it’s polluted in rural areas as well.
According to her, pollution affects all parts of the world, even the most developed countries. A fast action is needed as the whole human population is in danger. She suggests making improvements in waste management, but also making changes when it comes to cooking fuel. Neira also suggest governments need to start thinking about reducing the number of vehicles on the roads.
The data for this research was gathered in 3,000 different locations around the planet and it found that 92% of people are breathing bad air, that is, air with quality levels that are lower than the levels recommended by the World Health Organization.
This research was focused on pollution related to the matter with a diameter of up to 2.5 micrometers or PM2.5. This includes everything from sulfate to black carbon. These toxins are dangerous as they can get deep in the lungs or even the cardiovascular system. The air that contains more than 10 microgrammes per cubic meter of PM2.5 is considered polluted.
In order to gather the data, researchers from the WHO used satellite data in combination with ground readings. According to Dr Neira, the WHO now has more than enough information that confirm a large-scale problem.
The data conducted by the WHO estimates that there are over 3 million deaths each year that are caused by outdoor pollution. When it comes to indoor pollution, this issue is a huge problem in developing countries, in which many people still use charcoal for cooking. In fact, poor people are those most likely to die from air pollution.
The WHO claims that over 90 percent of deaths caused by air pollution happen in low and mid-income countries. The regions that are the most affected by this problem include the Western Pacific region and South-east Asia. This includes countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, and China. Overall, 80% of city dwellers breathe bad air, while that percentage rises to 98% in poor countries.
Dr Carlos Dora from the World Health Organization says that the efforts made by certain governments are far from being enough. According to him, those strategies have a limited effect. For example, Beijing uses daily air quality warnings to help the citizens, but the warnings don’t do much for their health. As the danger is the exposure to sub-par air over a long-term, staying away from bad air for one day is not enough. On top of that, Dr Dora warns that face masks are not the real solution. In fact, according to him, there is not enough evidence that these masks can protect from pollution.